Goats (and Sheep) Do Roam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last weekend we went to Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Before any of you make any smart-alecky comments like, “Why???”, or, “Is there something I don’t know about you?”, let me explain.

No, I am not interested in animal husbandry, nor do I have a secret sheep shearing hobby. Simply put, animals are one more participant in the farmers’ market experience, usually as the donor of wool, meat, milk, or eggs. Someone we don’t usually get to meet.

Besides, they are terribly cute, sometimes to the point of grotesqueness:

The Festival, one of the biggest of its kind in the US, is not just about the sheep to shawl contests, showcasing hundreds of breeds, or working sheep dog demonstrations (which are pretty cool, by the way).

It is also about fantastic locally produced food, be it lamb, goat milk products, or sheep’s milk cheeses. A large variety of local farmstead meats and meat products were available for purchase, or immediate consumption (tasty lamb burgers, barbecued lamb ribs, grilled lamb, 100% lamb hot dogs, kabobs, etc.).

my homemade version of Provencal lamb shoulder, about to be slow-roasted with ramps, thyme, zest, lavender, peppercorns, EVOO, and red wine

Besides the a la carte options, one could buy tickets to the Shepherd’s Feast, which is a full-blown lamb-eating bacchanalia…

 

drool-worthy French chevre…sigh

Besides the meats, I was suitably impressed by the artisanal raw sheep’s milk aged cheeses from Shepherds Manor Creamery that reminded me of simple Pecorinos. But for me personally, the real stars of the show were goat cheeses from Caprikorn Farms, as after being in France, I am desperate for fresh goat milk products. The chevre was made earlier that week, and was still quite goaty, even though it was made with pasteurized milk. The 60-day raw milk goat Gouda was delectable, as well. I ended up with a nice supply of both, and left the festival to enjoy them in the privacy of my own home.

Reminiscing about France, the first thing I put together was a vegetarian-friendly version of salade lyonnaise, with warm herbed fresh goat cheese discs instead of lardons:

My mock lyonnaise shows off the striking indigo frisee, paired with cage-free local poached eggs, the aforementioned goat cheese, and a simple vinaigrette dressing.

The next appetizer appeared in the form of grilled baby zucchini from the farmers’ market stuffed with fresh chevre:

It was followed by more goodies from the market: goat butter, French breakfast radishes, Persian cukes, fleur de sel de Camargue, cornichons, chives, rosemary boule, and raw milk goat Gouda:

 

And finally, a rustic salad of roasted new potatoes, raw milk 60-day goat Gouda, chives, roasted ramps, and cornichons:

Everything was washed down with a fantastic little-known white from a pioneering wine region in eastern Languedoc called Larzac (classified vin de pays de L’Herault) : 2010 Domaine du Pas d’Escalette Les Clapas. It is an amazingly complex, fresh, and elegant field blend with great limestony minerality.

Thank you, goats and sheep, for a lovely lunch!

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Day 1: Butter, Bells, and Stolen Glass

We arrived in Paris on Sunday morning, at the very cold and quiet hour of 8am. First things first, and after dropping off the luggage at the hotel, we headed to Eric Kayser’s shop for breakfast. Even though the concept of the best Parisian baguette is heavily debated, and there are annual contests to that effect, Eric Kayser is considered by many to be the best artisanal baker in Paris. Proximity to his shop, as well as two markets, three artisanal cheese shops, etc, and several parks to eat those goodies in, is just one reason to stay in the Latin quarter (5th arrondissement). We already knew coffee in France was going to be unexciting, so our main focus of the breakfast was on the pastries and bread. Traditionally the French just have a croissant (or possibly pain au chocolat, brioche, etc.), or tartine (slice of a baguette with butter and jam). A tartine or any pastry at Eric Kayser is a very luxurious experience, although the weak, milky coffee did little to wake us up. But, since we were not planning on doing any differential equations that morning, we felt like we were off to a good start!

Sunday was a market day at Place Monge, and quite gingerly, we started getting our bearings for market shopping. We had a long first day of eating ahead of us, so there was no reason to get greedy. I drooled over the fresh spring peas, purple artichokes, radishes, sausages, oysters…but stopped myself, and only bought one basil-specked fresh and very, very goaty cheese. We also picked up a small rustic olive bread (fougasse), and had breakfast number 2 in a sunny spot nearby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Paris started waking up slowly after the debaucheries of Saturday night, we were making our way down the narrow, windy streets of St. Germain du Pres neighborhood, on our way to Musee D’Orsay. Upon arrival, we saw lines that we eyeballed to be a 2 hour wait just to get in. I did know about the fabulous Degas Nudes exhibition, however, I misjudged the effect of the free entry to the museum on the first Sunday of the month. We thought we would come back another day, and instead went for a long preprandial walk on the Right Bank, passing by what was easily a 4-hour line to get into the Louvre for free. We had been to the Louvre, and instead went to Mariage Freres, arguably the best tea purveyer and shop in the world. No pictures were allowed, so please feel free to visit their website: http://www.mariagefreres.com/

We walked through the upstairs Tea Museum, and afterwards picked up a blue tea from Formosa for us (a tea category that is tricky to find in this country), and a couple of special requests from my mother who had been anxious to try the famous Mariage Freres stuff.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our lunch plans involved true Breton galettes (buckwheat crepes) at the Breizh café in the Marais. We arrived early, and were lucky to snag an outside table, even though we did not make a reservation (a major faux pas, but I was duly apologetic). They have a long, long list of organic artisanal ciders, so we settled on a bottle of a very dry and perfumy Francois Sehedic cider, traditionally served in a bowl, with our crepe complet au jambon cru de Savoie (filled with nutty, melted gruyère and topped with an egg and top-quality ham). For dessert, we chose a simple crepe with sugar and Bordier butter.

A word about Jean-Yves Bordier, an artisanal butter maker from Brittany who over the years has developed a cult-like following.  To achieve the quality of his butter, Bordier uses very traditional techniques and the best possible cream from select herds of Holstein and Norman cows that graze in pastures not far from Rennes, in Brittany. In an interview with France Magazine he said that the last part of the process (the slow, careful kneading) takes the wonderful butter “to a new level of suppleness that industrial butter makers cannot afford to achieve”.

Our next stop took us to La Chocolaterie de Jacques Genin. Monsieur Genin is an incredible pastry chef, chocolatier and food stylist who is responsible for inspiring a new culinary obsession: caramels. His phenomenally luscious caramels made nightly cost 100 euros a kilo (which comes out to about 1 euro per caramel), and come in nature flavor (“plain”, or sea salt butter-flavored), and a variety of infusions, such as mango, ginger, etc.

 

 

 

 

 

In case you are curious about all the chocolate bells, the French happen to believe that on Easter, the chocolate is brought not by a bunny, but by a big bell that flies in from Rome (which I first found out from my favorite David Sedaris story Jesus Shaves a few years back. Here is a link to this hilarious and short piece, in case you are curious: http://scottduncan.free.fr/blog/jesus_shaves.pdf

Groggy from all the butter and caramels, we took a quick nap, and woke up in the late afternoon, at the perfect time to skip the lines and casually walk into the wonderfully quirky Centre Pompidou, a great modern art museum conveniently located on our way to dinner:

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is important to note that few good restaurants are open on Sundays, therefore you have to manage your experience through careful planning. Prior to leaving for France, I had scored a reservation at Le Verre Vole (The Stolen Glass), a wonderful tiny wine bar (cave a manger) in the Marais, with a small, hand-picked selection of bio (organic) wines and a delicious menu.

We shared an amazing spring vegetable salad, and each had an entree (mine was a wonderfully comforting boudin noir).

 

 

 

 

The aromatic and food-friendly Cote-Rotie from Domaine Jean-Michel Stephan perfectly guided us from course to course. A country-style apple tart brought our first day in Paris to a satisfying close…